"Hi, Mom. I'm home." He opened his arms for a hug while crossing the threshold.
"Lith! What a wonderful surprise. I wasn't expecting you at all." Elina dropped the quill she was checking the farm's accounts with and ran to welcome him.
She was a graceful woman in her late thirties, but thanks to Lith's treatments she didn't look a day past thirty. She was well endowed in all the right places, with a fit body honed through hard work.
Elina's shoulder-length hair was of beautiful light-brown color, with shades of red highlighted throughout. The sunlight coming from the windows made her hair look like there were flames dancing within.
She looked carefully at Lith, checking his clothes for holes, his hands for injuries, and then his face for any sign of malnutrition or weight loss.
"Mom, I'm an adult and the number one ranked Ranger in the entire Griffon Kingdom. I can take care of myself." Lith said.
He still had his arms opened, making him feel like he was getting a body inspection rather than a welcome.
"All the magic in the entirety of Magar can't change the fact that I'm your mother and you're my son. It's my right and duty to worry about you."
"But Mom!" No matter how much time passed, Elina always made him feel like when he was still a child and she checked his clothes during winter to make sure he wouldn't catch a cold.
"Shut up and give your old mom a hug." With her 1.65 meters (5'5") of height, Elina was small compared to Lith, yet her arms were the safest place in the world to him.
"Never say that, Mom. You're not old." Lith rested his head on her shoulder.
"I'm not getting any younger for sure. Yet neither you nor Tista have given me a grandchild." Elina wanted to sound stern, but she was seconds away from bursting into tears.
She hadn't seen her son for months and the only thing that had allowed her to keep her sanity for so long was constantly checking Lith's contact rune on her own communication amulet.
As long as the little piece of gibberish was there, Elina had the proof that wherever he was, her son was still alive. With all the horrible news that she received from Jirni and Tista about what was happening in the Kingdom, Elina never dared to call Lith when his rune was available, afraid of bothering him or endanger his life.
"You can't keep Kamila waiting forever, you know? May the gods bless that woman. We've been so scared during the last year, always afraid you had been captured or disappeared somewhere.
"She's been our rock. Without her, your father and I would have died of fright."
"I'm sorry for making you worry, mom. I should have called more often." He said.
"Don't worry. It's all in the past now." Despite her words, Elina refused to let him go. "How long will you stay this time?"
"The whole month." Lith's reply made her flinch.
"Really?" Elina pushed him away just enough to hold his face between her hands and look him in the eyes.
"A full month?"
"Mom, not again! Do you need to hear it from my commanding officer to believe it? You can ask Kamila as well if you want. She'll join us for lunch." Lith was annoyed, but mostly with himself.
Elina's reaction spoke volumes of how little time he devoted her.
"Kamila is coming here? Now?" Elina's touch turned into a grip, squeezing Lith's cheeks.
"She got a month's leave as well. We have plenty of time to catch up and…"
"Why didn't you tell me sooner? I have nothing ready and I have yet to invite Zinya. Oh, gods. I'll never make it in time." Between her trembling and her obsessive staring at the clock, she reminded Lith of the white rabbit.
"Don't worry, Mom, it's just lunch. Also, what's the delicious smell that comes from the stove?" Lith tried to calm her down.
"How can you say call it 'just lunch'? It's our first meal together so it's very important. The gruel for you father and I is not proper food, you fool." Elina took the pot off the stove and stored it inside her dimensional item.
Then, she moved to the pantry and selected the best ingredients for the best meal she could prepare with what time she had left.
"I can help, you, Mom. It will be like the old times when we cooked together for the whole family." Lith had eaten many things during his early life just to quell his hunger, but nothing that Elina had ever fed him with could be labeled as gruel.
Back before he started to hunt, their house was poor and they didn't have much to eat. Their meals lacked quality and quantity, but hunger and all the care Elina put into her cooking had made them delicious.
"Nonsense. You're tired and need to rest. Take a seat, we'll talk while I cook." Elina fixed her hair in a ponytail with a hair clip after wearing an apron.
"Do you really think that cooking can be tiring for me? You know I'm going to use magic."
"In this case, I'll take up your offer." She hugged him again. A little tear streamed down her cheek while the memories of all the time she had spent in the kitchen with her son flashed in front of her eyes.
When Elina let him go, Lith found himself wearing an apron and his mother took more food out of the pantry.
"How the heck did you do that and what is all that stuff?" Lith tried to take the apron off, but the knot was too tight.
"Secret of the trade. As for lunch, with your help we can aim a lot higher. Cut and peel these vegetables, please. I'll season the meat and prepare the stuffing." Elina said.
Suddenly Lith wasn't so sure that making his mom a surprise had been a good idea. He spent the following hour talking only to receive and give instructions while they prepared the equivalent of a Thanksgiving meal.
"Why don't you hire a housemaid for this kind of stuff?" Lith asked once they were done with the preparations and the only thing left to do was waiting.
"Do you mean cooking?" Elina clicked her tongue. "Now that you and your sisters are all grown up and moved out, I only have to take care of Aran and your father. I may be older, but cooking for three is nothing compared to do it for seven…"
Elina found herself unable to continue. Orpal was an old but never closed wound while she still couldn't believe that Trion had abandoned his family because of his feeling of rivalry with Lith.
The room fell into a grieving silence, only broken by the gurgling sounds that came from the pots. Elina spaced out, her eyes veiled by too many questions that she would never find an answer to.
Lith missed his brothers as much as he could miss a hole in his head, but he stood quietly out of respect for his mother's suffering.